IRVING, Texas –Morris Claiborne did not exactly have a seamless transition to the NFL, but with his regular season debut now right around the corner, the Cowboys are certainly glad to have their first-round pick in the lineup.
Whether it was during his rehab from wrist surgery that kept him out of every summer Organized Team Activity and minicamp, or when he was sidelined by a sprained knee, Claiborne admits he was always looking ahead to facing the receivers of the New York Giants. Stopping Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks was entirely the reason the Cowboys made the bold trade up the draft board to land Claiborne in April.
Claiborne, who appeared in two exhibition games, against the Chargers and Rams, was tested by quarterbacks relatively few times in preseason action. The silver lining that comes with not being on the field for a full training camp is more time for homework.
Claiborne said he has taken some of his spare time over the past weeks and months to scout the receivers he will be facing on Wednesday. There is typically a little bit of a learning curve for rookies to adjust to facing NFL players, and Claiborne knows he can partially compensate by knowing the tendencies of the receivers he lines up against.
"In my extra time that I have, I try to look at the receivers because I know that's going to help me when I get on the field as far as what to look for," Claiborne said. "I just try to do my homework. I've been looking at a couple of clips (of the Giants' receivers) here and there. Since I didn't play in the Oakland game (Aug. 13), I kind of looked ahead a little bit."
Claiborne may have been wise to look ahead considering the Giants have two very dangerous receivers on their roster in Nicks and Cruz. Nicks caught 76 passes last season for over 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns, and Cruz had 82 catches for over 1,800 yards and nine touchdowns. The two were especially efficient in the Giants' Week 17 victory over the Cowboys, a do-or-die game for both teams. In the New York win, the two receivers burned Dallas for a combined 11 catches, 254 yards and two touchdowns.
The final loss to the Giants left a bitter taste in the Cowboys' mouths, but opening the season against the team that crushed their playoff hopes provides a chance for redemption.
"We had an opportunity to go up there at the end of last season and make the playoffs, and we didn't get the job done," Garret said. "So we have to live with that. But at the same time we have to turn the page."
Claiborne is one of the corners, along with veteran free agent addition Brandon Carr, who was brought in to help "turn the page," to stop opposing receivers from breaking down the defense with such ease.
"He's been healthy for the last couple weeks and played a lot in these preseason games, and he's getting better and better," Garrett said. "We thought a lot of him coming out of school, a very natural player, but he has to play against NFL receivers.
"He'll be challenged Wednesday night. They've got great players, they've got great receivers, that's well documented."
One of the things Garrett emphasizes with Claiborne is his comfort in big-game environments against tough competition, having played at the highest level of college football at LSU. But no SEC teams boast receivers as talented as the two guys Claiborne will face on Wednesday.
"We're still watching film," Claiborne said. "These last couple days are going to be critical to get all the things that you can get in, and just continue to do what the coaches have us doing, and just go out and play ball. … I know they're coming, and it's just up to me to prepare myself the way I've been preparing to be ready for it."
Keeping Eli Manning's weapons in check may be the biggest key for the Cowboys on Wednesday. Prior to the draft, Claiborne was heralded as being the most "NFL ready" cornerback in the class.
The Giants will be sure to test that label.